James Elkington wrote these songs to shake out the monsters after a disorienting few weeks cramped in a van touring the southwest desert. Imagine: “We go hand to hand/And the desert pits the snakes against the lions.” He even got a nosebleed from “a total lack of scale.”
Such unsettling imagery dominates the engagingly jangly opener, but you can feel the Zincs leaving the experience behind on nearly every track, escaping across a stylistic range from hollow-eyed Buddy Holly references to gothic Henry Mancini takes and a sort of mash-up between Pavement and Pat Metheney, all in a good way.
These relatively dense and varied arrangements were unforeseeable when Elkington began this project as an uber-artsy solo act, sounding like a downcast Howe Gelb mumbling Tim Rutili lyrics. The discipline and constraints of working within a band, first documented on the Zincs’ 2005 Dimmer, seem to have honed his songwriting talent substantially, and his bandmates also appear to have an endless reservoir of tasty arrangement ideas.
It’s Elkington’s vocals, though, that set the tone (think Nick Cave), his deep and gritty baritone reinforcing the dark poetry of his lyrics. The mood of “Burdensome Son” drives its oppressively slow, jazzy accompaniment, and the desperation of “Finished In This Business” dictates the frantic rush of the song’s tempo: “We are out of time/And everything we’ve given of ourselves.” Edith Frost brightens three tracks, including “Lost Solid Colors”, a duet the pair honed while sharing that desert nightmare tour.